Part of the Alaska experience is living close to nature, surrounded by trees, with moose wandering in and out of the front yard.
However rustic and charming living like that is, it is not safe, said Jeff Graham, fire prevention officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry.
Forestry officer Sharon Roesch said if a wildfire or forest fire were to break out, homes nestled in the woods would be all but unsalvageable.
To increase public awareness of this, Roesch and colleague John LeClair launched the FireWise Community Action Program.
FireWise is a comprehensive plan designed to spark a grass-roots wildfire prevention and awareness campaign.
FireWise, in partnership with the Alaska Wildland Fire Coordinating Group and Project Impact, aims to meet potential fire threats head-on at the community level to prevent the damages that wildfires generally cause, said Central Emergency Services Fire Chief Len Malmquist.
Fire safety is especially important on the Kenai Peninsula, where 75 percent of Alaskas spruce bark beetle damage occurs.
Malmquist said FireWise is an important program to peninsula residents because flames fueled by beetle-killed timber spread too fast to be contained and can quickly overcome anything in their path.
The central tenet of FireWise is to develop and maintain defensible space around homes. This means keeping highly flammable materials at least 30 feet from buildings. To be safe, not only should firewood and fuels be moved away, but also dead or easily burned trees.
All evergreens are more flammable than the birches, the aspens and the alders, Malmquist said. All evergreens should be removed.
Roesch said that having defensible space doesnt mean a house surrounded by a dirt lot.
Did You Know?
The top causes of wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak form 1984 to 1998:
Debris burns: 300 wildfires
Camp fires:220 wildfires.
Cihldren: 125 wildfires.
Smoking: 50 wildfires.
Fireworks: 48 wildfires.
Power lines: 45 wildfires.
Equipment: 30 wildfires.
Incendiary devices: 15 wildfires.
--Information from the Alaska Division of Forestry
You can have bushy plants in your yard, she said. If you have a nice, big birch or aspen tree, thats good.
According to Malmquist, Roesch and several area plant experts, one of the safest options for defensible space is a healthy, well-trimmed lawn. Other good ideas are low-growing succulent plants, annuals and flowering shrubs, such as chokecherries.
But FireWise deals with far more than landscaping. The program also offers advice on ensuring safety inside the home, use of fire-resistant building materials, establishing an emergency water supply and improving access for firefighting equipment.
Roesch said it is important to keep driveways well-marked and clear of obstacles.
Having it so firefighters can operate around your house makes them (want to go there), she said. They cant go into a situation where they dont feel they can get out.
Roesch said the more fire-resistant a home is, the more likely to survive the building will be.
Malmquist said although many people have confidence the fire department will save their homes, there are more houses than equipment and personnel.
If you have a subdivision with 100 homes at risk, Ive only got seven pieces of equipment (at CES), he said. That means 93 people are going to lose their homes.
FireWise packets are available at all peninsula fire departments, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management and the Division of Forestry. There is no charge for any public fire safety information.
Additionally, Forestry fire prevention officers and community fire personnel are available to give FireWise presentations to any interested group. To set up an appointment, call the local agency at 262-4124 and ask about the FireWise program.
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